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Not only does 19-year-old Gilly go to stay with a 30-something “uncle” she has never met, she also decides to masquerade as a 14-year-old gymslip-wearing schoolgirl. Written in 1964, you can imagine how this one progresses.

The hero, Oliver “Uncle Noll” Blunt, is a schoolmaster at a minor public school in England.

The heroine, Gilly Flower, is the daughter of a late business tycoon whose capricious (and legally implausible) will requires her to stay with each of three older “uncles” as a condition of inheritance. Her mother is newly-remarried in the US and apparently uninterested in her daughter.

Wrap your head around this frankly absurd set up, and it’s a lot of fun with some distinctly borderline overtones – at one point Oliver is even forced to disclaim being a “Humbert Humbert” and Gilly a “budding Lolita”. We might manage to accept this if we didn’t learn at the start that Gilly is about five foot tall and passes for thirteen without make-up on.

The Other Woman here is Joan Meade/J Meade, an ambitious former schoolmaster’s daughter, who wishes to marry Oliver Blunt so she can become a schoolmaster’s wife and help him become headmaster. We needn’t feel sorry for her, because it turns out she is utterly frigid.

To Oliver:

“I’ll admit I’m not interested in the physical side of marriage, but I’m prepared to take the rough with the smooth.”

To Gilly:

“I was fond of Oliver, yes, but that was as far as it went. Unlike you, I’m fastidious. If one marries, one has to put up with the coarser side, but perhaps I’ve discovered in time that Noll, who I thought I knew so well, has different notions. He would, I don’t doubt now, not have much respect for woman’s finer feelings.”

I do love these “other women” from vintage romances. They’re always far more fun than the main couple.

Overall The Third Uncle is well written, but drags a little in the final quarter. This is an issue in many genre/Mills & Boon/Harlequin Romance novels from the era. I suspect it’s a combination of padding to hit a minimum word count, and the dilemma of keeping things chaste while having to hit a “passion moment” somewhere after the half-way point. Authors can’t escalate relations, so they have to be wound back, and it then drags.

Great if you like age-gap stories and stuff that’s pretty close to the taboo line.

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